Blast from the past - Vanasundari 1951

P. U. Chinnappa, T. R. Rajakumari, T. S. Balaiah, S. Varalakshmi, R. Balasubramaniam, M. G. Chakrapani, D. Balasubramaniam, C.V.V. Panthulu, N. S. Krishnan, T. A. Mathuram, M. S. Karuppaiah, ‘Kaka' Radhakrishnan, C. T. Rajakantham, T. V. Kumudhini, C. R. Rajakumari, Pulimoottai Ramaswami, Kulathu Mani and Lalitha-Padmini (dance)

July 09, 2011 06:22 pm | Updated 06:22 pm IST



SM. Letchumanan Chettiar, popularly known as Lena, was a prominent personality in Tamil cinema.Hailing from Managiri, Chettinad, he began his life as a drama contractor and used-car dealer. He was the first person to print and distribute handbills in Tamil, advertising expensive, used cars such as Buick, Chevrolet, Studebaker and Dodge. A novelty in that period, it attracted much attention. He entered filmdom with M. K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar's Pavalakodi (1934). Later, he made many films which featured the top actors of the day such as P. U. Chinnappa, K. R. Ramasami, M.G. Ramachandran, Sivaji Ganesan, T. R. Rajakumari, S. D. Subbulakshmi, N. S. Krishnan and T.A. Mathuram.

Due to legal problems, his name never appeared in the credits of his films and only the name of his production company ‘Krishna Pictures' featured in the ads and credit titles. During his day, he wielded considerable clout among the elite of Madras and was on a first-name basis with top businessmen, bankers, industrialists and lawyers. One of his star-studded productions was Vanasundari . A fictional tale of a king (Chakrapani) murdered by his brother (Balaiah) becomes a ghost (courtesy, Shakespeare's ‘Hamlet!') and appears before his daughter Vanasundari (T. R. Rajakumari) telling her what had happened and asking her to seek revenge for the “most foul and unnatural murder.”

A prince in exile (Chinnappa) and his smart sidekick (NSK) meet Vanasundari in the woods by accident. The prince and princess fall in love and he promises to fulfil her father's wish. The wily usurper (Balaiah) arrests both but they escape. They meet a woman with magical powers (Rajakantham) who gives them a statuette of Mohini which comes to life when needed (C. R. Rajakumari) and can fulfil any desire! The hero and his sidekick go through many adventures before they succeed in exposing the villains and fulfilling the heroine's wish. Written by Elangovan, Vanasundari had many songs composed by C. R. Subbaraman and S. V. Venkataraman (lyrics: Udumalai Narayana Kavi, Kambadasan).

The film had pleasing photography (Jiten Banerjee) and picturesque sets (art direction: F. Nagoor) and was shot at Newtone Studios. The screenplay and direction were deftly handled by T. R. Raghunath.

Like in any Lena production, Vanasundari too had plenty of entertainment by way of dances performed by Lalitha-Padmini. One song was rendered off screen by the Carnatic music icon, D. K. Pattammal, — ‘Naadu chezhithida…' (lyrics: Udumalai Narayana Kavi).

Varalakshmi, who played the vamp and the villain's mistress, also sang some songs in her melodious voice.

The dance drama with Lalitha-Padmini-Jayalakshmi written by Udumalai Narayana Kavi and sung off screen by P. A. Periyanayaki, K. V. Janaki and P. Leela was an added attraction.

The lead pair Chinnappa and Rajakumari also rendered quite a few songs, with one of them, ‘Namasthey', being a straight lift from a popular Hindi movie, Patanga . That was the period when music composers of South Indian cinema lifted tunes from Hindi movies without bothering about infringement of copyright!

In spite of the star cast, loads of entertainment and excellent on screen presentation by the director, Vanasundari was only an average success.

Remembered for glamorous Rajakumari, dance dramas and melodious music.

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